Language and Literature
In his brief discussion of Milan Kundera’s novel, Ignorance, Chinese-born writer, Ha Jin, notes that the etymology of the word ‘nostalgia’ combines Greek and Latin meanings, suggesting an emotion that threatens memory, instead of deepening it. Kundera himself has commented on how the people of Ithaca never felt nostalgia for Odysseus, even when they were able to recall him vividly before his return home. In my paper on Ha Jin’s fiction, I plan to discuss how the longing to return home leads to the collapse of personal identity in the wake of nationalist ideologies. For instance, in Ha Jin’s novel, War Trash, Yu Yuan becomes a prisoner in war-time Korea who is processed by one camp only to discover that his processing compromises his security when he is thrown into another camp. His journey to America after the war is stymied when his attempt to please Chinese authorities becomes a liability at the US border. Thus, the longing to return home is haunted by a sign of membership in the community that the protagonist is trying to flee. The memory of home leads the protagonist to believe that identity possesses a rigid meaning, and this belief ironically reproduces the system of authority that the protagonist has escaped. As a result, identity, falsely conceived, prevents the protagonist from discovering the value of exile—and turns the nostalgia for home into a formula for generating an impenetrable self.